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The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Price: Loss shows how Duke football program is the blueprint to success for Power-Five teams at academically rigorous schools

Daily file photo by Angeli Mittal
Former offensive lineman Charlie Schmidt prepares to hike the ball against Duke in 2022.

Listed as double-digit underdogs entering Saturday, Northwestern’s 38-14 loss to Duke wasn’t surprising. 

Outside of the football program’s unwavering — expected, of course — belief in their team’s chances of winning, a potential upset didn’t cross many minds. The Blue Devils are playing at a higher level than both Rutgers and UTEP right now. 

But this loss didn’t feel as gut-wrenching as the score displays. 

It was a battle between two programs at different points of the rebuilding process. One was at the end of, if not already done with, the journey, finally seeing the fruits of their labor. The losing team, on the other hand, hovered in the early stages — one foot committed to the rebuild, the other stuck in the past.  

More importantly, it reflected what the Cats’ program could be. Duke’s triumph over NU showed how their football program is the blueprint to success for Power-Five football programs at academically rigorous schools.

Not too long ago, the Blue Devils were a broken vessel. 

Duke was 2-9 and 3-9 in 2020 and 2021, respectively. Bleacher Report predicted that they would finish last in the ACC in 2022. 

That’s when the program hit the reset button. They parted ways with their head coach David Cutcliffe after 14 seasons (ring a bell?) and brought in then-Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mike Elko in December 2021. Outside of him, they cleared the house. Only two out of 11 coaches remained on staff after the 2021 season. 

The result? The Blue Devils went 9-4 in 2022. Elko was named ACC Coach of the Year after leading his team to its best record in nearly 10 years.

And, from a recruiting standpoint, NU and Duke aren’t much different. The Blue Devils don’t reel in five-star recruits or a plethora of four stars yearly. Each roster is filled with three-star recruits. Both Duke and NU are schools largely known for their academic prestige and not their football accolades, hardening the ability to compete with programs loaded with five-star freshmen like the University of Michigan and Clemson. 

Because of this, it takes time and experience for these programs to reach their highest potential. Exhibit A was the Cats in 2020, where NU’s starter under center was graduate student quarterback Peyton Ramsey, surrounded by mostly juniors, seniors or other graduate students. Duke’s offense and defense was drenched in experience on Saturday, as four of their starting offensive lineman were graduate students or seniors. 

Of course, experience doesn’t equate to wins, but it does give one an advantage. And in a way, a level playing field against teams and rosters that on paper are better.

NU wasn’t blown out, and I’m not calling them a “broken vessel” either. The Cats moved the ball well at times, especially during their methodical touchdown drive in the second quarter, or when they made some critical stops on the defensive end on third and fourth down.

But Duke played at a different level than NU on Saturday. Their defense flew around, the run game was consistent and quarterback Riley Leonard’s skillset proved how important a mobile quarterback is in today’s game. 

If a mirror was placed in front of NU, it would be a reflection of the Blue Devils’ younger self — just one earlier in the rebuild.

Nonetheless, the Cats have made strides toward future success with interim head coach David Braun at the helm and a few young players flashing lots of potential for years to come. 

However, NU has been here before — having to rebuild and start from scratch. Duke just made the roadmap clearer than ever. 

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @LPIII_TRES 

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Football: Northwestern’s inability to stop No. 21 Duke and QB Riley Leonard on the ground leads to 38-14 loss

Rapid Recap: No. 21 Duke 38, Northwestern 14

Football: What to Watch For: Northwestern strives for its first win in over a calendar year in home opener versus UTEP 

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